Space Agency UK

This should be a big thing. It's the start of a new era for the UK. From today (23 March) we'll have our own space agency. I should be more excited.

In 1985 the British National Space Centre was formed. With a staff of something like 30 it acts as an umbrella for various UK Government departments, the Research Councils, and the MET Office to coordinate UK space activity. Space activity includes everything from weather satellites, to navigation, to scientific missions with the European Space Agency. From today though, the way the UK deals with space will change. Or not. I'm not really sure.

Today we get a new executive space agency. The body was first announced back in December by Science Minister Lord Drayson. He announced plans for a new "bureaucracy busting agency" that would provide "strategic decision making". What this means in practice, and if it means a larger budget, is unclear to me. "Bureaucracy busting" could mean genuine efficiency or it could be fancy talk for cuts.

The organisations that make up BNSC spent £268 million on UK space activities last year. This apparently contributes some £5.8 billion to the economy (or £6.5 billion according to another press release). Interestingly, the overall budget has increased by £89 million since 2000/1 with the rise mostly funded by increases from the Natural Environment Research Council (£42 million) and the Science and Technology Research Council (£77 million). The rise in STFC's contribution has presumably not made things easier for the ailing council. The budget of BNSC itself seems to be only around £2.6 million. Given the return for the economy, it would make sense to give the new space agency extra money compared to the sum of BNSC's parts. It would be great if it did but, given the way STFC has been left adrift for the past 2 years, I'm not too optimistic on that front.

A new agency brings many questions. What will the strategy of the new space agency be? Will its focus be on technology, science or business? Who will be providing the direction? I hope the Director is someone inspiring, someone who can bring cohesion, someone who the community can respect. I can think of one person I hope it isn't. There is also the question of whether this agency will survive through to the other side of the upcoming General Election.

Later today, at the official launch, we shall find out answers to some of these questions. Although I'm not amongst the great and the good I was invited to the event. Unfortunately, it's rather expensive to get to (£164 return fare on the train) so I won't be attending. I'd been told I would be able to listen remotely but that option caused confusion within BIS and was going to cost £300 to set up a phone line. With no means of attending I shall just have to wait for information from Jonathan Amos, Paul Crowther, Alex Connor and the rest of the Twitterati.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 23rd Mar 2010 (00:12 GMT) | Permalink
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